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Posts Tagged ‘Las Vegas

“He who controls the spice controls the universe”*

 

Spices

 

Spices were among the first engines of globalization, not in the modern sense of a world engulfed by ever-larger corporations but in the ways that we began to become aware, desirous even, of cultures other than our own. Such desire, unchecked, once led to colonialism. After Dutch merchants nearly tripled the price of black pepper, the British countered in 1600 by founding the East India Company, a precursor to modern multinationals and the first step toward the Raj. In the following decades, the Dutch sought a monopoly on cloves, which once had grown nowhere but the tropical islands of Ternate and Tidore in what is today Indonesia, and then in 1652 introduced the scorched-earth policy known as extirpation, felling and burning tens of thousands of clove trees. This was both an ecological disaster and horribly effective: For more than a century, the Dutch kept supplies low and prices high, until a Frenchman (surnamed, in one of history’s inside jokes, Poivre, or “pepper”) arranged a commando operation to smuggle out a few clove-tree seedlings. Among their ultimate destinations were Zanzibar and Pemba, off the coast of East Africa, which until the mid-20th century dominated the world’s clove market.

The craving for spices still brings the risk of exploitation, both economically, as farmers in the developing world see only a sliver of the profits, and in the form of cultural appropriation. In the West, we’re prone to taking what isn’t ours and acting as if we discovered it, conveniently forgetting its history and context. Or else we reduce it to caricature, cooing over turmeric-stained golden lattes while invoking the mystic wisdom of the East. At the same time, a world without borrowing and learning from our neighbors would be pallid and parochial — a world, in effect, without spice…

From turmeric in Nicaragua to cardamom in Guatemala, nonnative ingredients are redefining trade routes and making unexpected connections across lands: “How Spices Have Made, and Unmade, Empires.”

* Frank Herbert, Dune

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As we go deep on dash, we might recall that this is National Buffet Day.  The concept of the buffet arose in mid 17th century France, when gentleman callers would arrive unexpectedly at the homes of ladies they wanted to woo.  It was popularized in 18th century France and quickly spread throughout Europe.  The all-you-can-eat buffet made its restaurant debut in 1946, when it was introduced by Vegas hotel manager Herb MacDonald.  By the mid-1960s, virtually every casino in Las Vegas sported its own variation.  Today, of course, buffets are regularly available not only in any/every Vegas casino, but also in thousands of Indian and Chinese restaurants and ubiquitous chains of “family restaurants.”

buffet source

 

 

 

 

Written by LW

January 2, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I can understand that a man might go to the gambling table – when he sees that all that lies between himself and death is his last crown”*…

 

Wheel of Fortune, Las Vegas, 1988

Thirty years ago, gambling in the US was limited to three destinations: Reno, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City. Jay Wolke photographed the ordinary people who played, lived and worked in the rapidly expanding cities.  Wolke was fascinated by the intersections of people, artifice, architecture and landscape in the US’s three gambling cities…

Girl in car, Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, 1989

Fortune Hunter, Las Vegas, 1988

See more at “Same dream another time: under the skin of 80s Vegas – in pictures” and at Wolke’s site.

* Honoré de Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin

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As we consider the odds, we might recall that it was on this date in 2000 that Cynthia Jay-Brennan won $34,959,458.56 on a Megabucks slot machine at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, the world’s largest payout; it was a one in 7 million chance.  A cocktail waitress at another casino, she had been a Desert Inn regular; on this occasion, she had “invested” $27 in the machine that paid off so handsomely.

Sadly. Jay-Brennan has become synonymous with the “Jackpot Jinx”: a few weeks after her huge haul, she and her sister were driving to a casino out of town when they were hit by a drunk driver, paralyzing her and killing her sister.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

January 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A city that was to forge out of steel and blood-red neon its own peculiar wilderness”*…

 

A woman and her work

 

Las Vegas– and the world– lost two icons of neon sign design on April 19th: Betty Willis, seen above with the iconic “Welcome” sign that she designed, and Brian “Buzz” Leming, creator of many of the Strip’s most memorable marquees, passed away within hours of each other.

Leming’s “Hacienda Horse and Rider”

 

Willis and Leming both worked at the Western Sign Company, where they struck up a friendship.  Many of their creations are preserved in the Neon Museum’s outdoor “Boneyard,” where it stores its relics.

The Neon Museum’s Boneyard

 

More at “Two Designers of Las Vegas’s Iconic Neon Signs Died on the Same Day.”

* Nelson Algren (writing about Chicago, though it’s surely apropos of Las Vegas as well)

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As we switch on the lights, we might send forbearing birthday wishes to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; he was born on this date in 121.  The last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers; his Meditations, written on campaign before he became emperor, is still a central text on the philosophy of service and duty.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 26, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Dinner was made for eating, not for talking”*…

 

Still, talking is, more often than not, part of the program.  How to increase the odds that the discussion will be as tasty as the dinner?  Alex Cornell has the key:

larger version here

One of the most complex social situations you will encounter is the 45 seconds that elapse while deciding where to sit for dinner at a restaurant. Your choice should appear natural, unbiased and haphazard if executed properly. Timing is everything.

These 45 seconds determine how enjoyable your next 2 hours will be. Once the pieces start to fall into place and people take their seats, your choices narrow. People sit, seemingly at random, and if you don’t take the appropriate measures, you’re inevitably stuck at the least interesting end of the table.

I have compiled the above infographic to assist you with some of the common configuration patterns…

More at “Musical Chairs.”

* William Makepeace Thackeray

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As we fiddle with our forks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that tables of a different sort became the main event in Nevada, when the economic pressures of the Great Depression (and the opportunity to entertain workers arriving to build Hoover Dam) moved the state legislature to legalize gambling.  But it wasn’t until after World War II, when Bugsy Siegel decided to go (sort of) legit and took control of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, that the Land of Casinos began to glow in the way that, to this day, it does.

 source

 

Written by LW

March 19, 2013 at 1:01 am

The Blessed Estate, Redesigned…

https://i2.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8070/8242853404_d32052d3cd_o.jpg source

James Thurber once suggested that “the most dangerous food is wedding cake.”  Maybe not…

Denny’s has just opened a new flagship location in Las Vegas– replete with wedding chapel.  And to make one’s special day even more special, “America’s Diner” is offering a special wedding menu, topped by “The King Stack” (“King” as in Elvis):  bacon, peanut butter and bananas between two slices of French toast finished off with a bacon vodka chaser.

As Denny’s spokesperson Frances Allen observed, “a normal Denny’s is not going to cut it in Vegas.”  Indeed, this newest outlet is located in the quickly-redeveloping Old Downtown district, where it’s neighbors include a zip line that carries visitors above street-level traffic, a restaurant that holds a Guinness Record for the highest-calorie burger, and what is being billed as the world’s largest gay nightclub.

Viva Las Vegas!

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As we decide that it’s not so important to wear white after all, we might send lethargic birthday greetings to Steven Alexander Wright; he was born on this date in 1955.  An Academy Award winning comedian, actor, and writer, Wright is the king of the deadpan paraprosdokian.

It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it…

https://i0.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8337/8242853432_6c3eb8149f_o.jpg source

 

Written by LW

December 6, 2012 at 1:01 am

Show me the money…

Throughout history, artists have tended to cluster around centers of power and wealth… which is simply to observe that they’ve honored Willie Sutton’s wisdom: “that’s where the money is”; they’ve set up their easels (or pianos or footlights or whatever) where they can find patrons and customers.  But those centers of cultural gravity tend to be expensive places to live– increasingly, so expensive that aspiring artists can’t even afford a garret in which to starve.  E.g., aspiring artists who want to join the community that migrated from Greenwich Village to Soho to Tribeca, then to Brooklyn, and on to Hoboken are beginning to find even that Jersey shore too pricey…

At the same time, new centers of wealth and power are emerging around the world, and with them, new communities of artists and performers.  Indeed, as Richard Florida and others suggest, there’s a symbiotic relationship between the growth of a “Creative Class” in a community and that community’s ability to innovate and succeed commercially.  A rich artistic and cultural life doesn’t assure a city’s commercial success, but its absence is a pretty good indicator of commercial mediocrity (or worse).

So one indicator of areas that are contenders to be “the next hot region” is the sprouting of the arts there.    Consider, for example…

Brazil’s most creative neighborhood is far from the beaches of Rio, in loud and brash São Paulo, South America’s answer for New York City. And you can expect one thing from this loud, raw urban metropolis — a lot of really colorful, politically-charged street art. Large neon pieces of work show up everywhere from dilapidated buildings to enormous billboards, and in the ultimate nod to creativity, esteemed museum MuBE, the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, hosted actual gallery space for some of São Paulo’s most well-known graffiti artists to promote their work. Unlike certain places, this is a city that fosters young talent.

If digital is your medium, you won’t find a better place to be right now than Jakarta. Indonesia has more Facebook users than Canada has people, and internet cafes are a daily visit. Investors from the West have their eye on mobile, broadcasting and start-ups, all growing trends across the country that make it easy for youngsters to take to their own businesses. Creative collectives like Askara, a bookstore where the hip commune, Serrum, a community for arts education, and Kampong Segart, a student art union, give the space and inspiration for this new wave of Indonesian trend makers.

Visit six other candidate cities– including two, Macao and Las Vegas, that are better known for shilling than selling– at Flavorwire’s “The Best Cities for Young Artists.”

As we get in touch with our inner expatriate, we might wish an elegantly-laid out and well-groomed Happy Birthday to Frederick Law Olmsted; he was born on this date in 1822.  A journalist, social critic, public administrator, Olmsted is best remembered as the greatest American landscape architect of the 19th century.  While the title “Father of American Landscape Architecture” probably belongs to Andrew Jackson Downing, Olmsted was unquestionably the primary agent of the discipline’s growth and adoption.   Olmsted’s most famous commission was Central Park in New York; but he also designed city parks in St. Louis, Boston, and many other cities; the grounds around the Capitol in Washington, D.C.; the Niagra Reservation, one the countries first planned communities; the master plans for universities including UC-Berkley and Stanford (among other universities); and private estates like George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House in Asheville.

Olmsted at Biltmore House, by frequent house-guest John Singer Sargent (source)

Just say “Nietzsche” to Kant…

The World Values Survey, conducted by a global network of social scientists and compiled by Dr. Ronald Inglehart, is concerned to understand variations in cultures around the world.  Its “Inglehart Values Map” visualizes the strong correlation of those values– that’s to say, the remarkably predictable way in which countries cluster…

Dr. Inglehart explains (prose alert– the following is from a social scientist; perseverance may be required– but will be rewarded):

The World Values Surveys were designed to provide a comprehensive measurement of all major areas of human concern, from religion to politics to economic and social life and two dimensions dominate the picture: (1) Traditional/ Secular-rational and (2) Survival/Self-expression values. These two dimensions explain more than 70 percent of the cross-national variance in a factor analysis of ten indicators-and each of these dimensions is strongly correlated with scores of other important orientations.

The Traditional/Secular-rational values dimension reflects the contrast between societies in which religion is very important and those in which it is not. A wide range of other orientations are closely linked with this dimension. Societies near the traditional pole emphasize the importance of parent-child ties and deference to authority, along with absolute standards and traditional family values, and reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride, and a nationalistic outlook. Societies with secular-rational values have the opposite preferences on all of these topics.

The second major dimension of cross-cultural variation is linked with the transition from industrial society to post-industrial societies-which brings a polarization between Survival and Self-expression values. The unprecedented wealth that has accumulated in advanced societies during the past generation means that an increasing share of the population has grown up taking survival for granted. Thus, priorities have shifted from an overwhelming emphasis on economic and physical security toward an increasing emphasis on subjective well-being, self-expression and quality of life. Inglehart and Baker (2000) find evidence that orientations have shifted from Traditional toward Secular-rational values, in almost all industrial societies. But modernization, is not linear-when a society has completed industrialization and starts becoming a knowledge society, it moves in a new direction, from Survival values toward increasing emphasis on Self-expression values.

A central component of this emerging dimension involves the polarization between Materialist and Postmaterialist values, reflecting a cultural shift that is emerging among generations who have grown up taking survival for granted. Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, tolerance of diversity and rising demands for participation in decision making in economic and political life. These values also reflect mass polarization over tolerance of outgroups, including foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality. The shift from survival values to self-expression values also includes a shift in child-rearing values, from emphasis on hard work toward emphasis on imagination and tolerance as important values to teach a child. And it goes with a rising sense of subjective well-being that is conducive to an atmosphere of tolerance, trust and political moderation.

Finally, societies that rank high on self-expression values also tend to rank high on interpersonal trust.  This produces a culture of trust and tolerance, in which people place a relatively high value on individual freedom and self-expression, and have activist political orientations. These are precisely the attributes that the political culture literature defines as crucial to democracy.

The summary map, above, is accompanied by 11 others focused on particular dimensions of the values map, for instance, this plot of “self-perceived well-being” (a sense of happiness) against the state of democracy (note the position of China, along the bottom of the chart…  may help explain why so many in the West have so much trouble understanding the culture and its attitude toward its government):

click image to enlarge

As we wipe away the Dewey and turn from values, we might recall that it was in this date in 1905 that Las Vegas was established as a railroad town, when 110 acres owned by the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad was auctioned off in what is now downtown Las Vegas.  Six years later, Las Vegas was formally incorporated.

What a difference a century makes…

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